Imagination is the gift of the mind. It allows for creative problem solving, connection with our most intimate selves, vision for our lives and movement toward an ever evolving future. But what if we were to misuse that imagination, both creating unneeded anxiety and preventing us from moving towards our destiny.
I’ll give you two examples of my own imagination at work in ways that were not only out of step with reality, but caused me much unnecessary anxiety.
Very recently, I have come to a point in my practice and in my life where I am no longer willing or able to compromise on my commitment to deep self-care. When I was a young entrepreneur building my business, I often put myself last on the list for care. For several years I had no insurance and I ignored some symptoms that were crying out for attention. As a result, there are a few neglected areas in my health that I am fully committed to caring for now.
So recently I made an appointment with an orthopedist to take a look at a really old injury that I never took the time or effort to deal with until now. When you ignore a pain or a symptom it kind of creates a narrative in the body that can feel scary or become packed with emotion. The hospital where the doctor works is a teaching hospital and after I made the appointment they sent me an email telling me there may be medical students present when they evaluate my case. Well I read the email and tucked it away in the corner of my mind. No big deal, right?
Well as the day of the appointment approached I began to imagine scenarios where I was sitting on the exam table in my paper robe while a large group of medical students with clipboards were taking notes while the doctor drilled me about my injury. In the scenario, I was expected to explain why I had neglected the injury for so long delving into specific details about how the injury occurred, which at this point, I can’t even remember. I found myself rehearsing a script that I would recite when asked these hard to answer questions.
Well by the time I got to the appointment I was completely filled with anxiety and negative expectation! I was convinced that the doctor was not going to really listen to me but I would give it a try anyway and not really expect too much. This was all before I even arrived!
The most hilarious thing was that when I arrived there was one doctor and one student, they asked me nothing about the circumstances of the injury and nothing about why I had neglected getting care for so long. My fears were using my imagination to paint a picture of the future that was pretty terrible. It was one of those moments where I could see how my imagination had run untethered towards a negative outcome.
Another example, which is kind of a funny one, is when Sam and I were first engaged, we planned a trip to bring his parents upstate to meet my parents. It was going to be about four hours in the car together. I was so nervous about the car ride because it was the longest amount of time I had spent with my future in laws. Well my imagination went wild with the possibilities!
The possible scenario that kept showing up was that all four if us would be sharing stories and laughing our heads off and basically having the best time of our lives. I would be charming and tell poignant anecdotes and completely win over their affections by the time we pulled into my parents driveway.
Well I felt so much pressure and nervousness in anticipation of the car ride because – how was I going to engage the car in meaningful conversations for four hours? I just had to call myself out afterwards because what actually happened was that Sam’s dad slept almost the whole way up and his step-mother read a book. It was hilarious! My fears highjacked my imagination and had created a scenario that put so much unnecessary pressure on me.
Our egos, or protective mechanisms, are hard wired to imagine bad outcomes in order to prepare us for the worst. It’s about survival. But I would like to evolve from just surviving this life to actually thriving. One way to do this is to begin to notice when you are imagining negative outcomes.
I guess, too, the old adage applies about the necessity of staying in the moment and not projecting doom and gloom into the future. But we are human and we have fears and insecurities we can’t just ignore or wish away. So what if when we first notice our fears high-jacking our imaginations into future scenarios we decided to imagine really calm and great situations happening.
Try it the next time you are worried about an upcoming event in your life – ask yourself the question: what is the absolute best scenario for this upcoming commitment I have? Can I imagine myself feeling good that day and feeling connected to myself? Can I imagine holding the other people there in the highest regard? Can I imagine being well received and well understood? Can I imagine having the most positive turn out?
Hey, not all challenging circumstances are going to turn out perfectly in this life, but how much anxiety would we not manufacture if we used our imaginations for good and not evil? If you are feeling you might need a mental and physical tune- up after this winter that just won’t quit, shoot me an email today to set up an appointment. Miss you guys that I haven’t seen! Hope all is well.